IFA Animal Health Chairman, Pat Farrell said the TB Forum established by the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed has failed to deliver on the key objective of addressing stakeholder issues.
He said the Forum, under the chairmanship of Michael Cronin, has merely functioned as a vehicle for the Department of Agriculture to impose their views, while continuing to ignore the voice of farmers, who are the single largest contributor to TB eradication.
Pat Farrell said farmer costs in the programme have risen by 15% since 2012, while the costs of other contributors have reduced.
Direct farmer contributions increased by €4.513m from €30.641m to €35.154m, DAFM contributions reduced by €289,000 from €45.825m to €45.536m and the EU Co-financing reduced by €1.337m from €11.085m to €9.748m.
The funding shift between 2012 and 2018 represents an increase of 15% for farmers, a reduction of 1% for the national exchequer and a reduction of 12% by the EU.
Despite the unacceptable cost increases for farmers in the TB programme, the TB Forum have now issued a report to the Minister for Agriculture that further increases the burden of controls on farmers, while refusing to address the shortcomings in the compensation schemes.
Pat Farrell said one of the recommendations contained in the report to the Minister tightens controls and increases obligations on farms that are not currently restricted with TB but have had difficulties on their farms previously with the disease.
He said, “These farms have only recently been derestricted and are attempting to return to normal farming practices having endured the enormous burden of restrictions and animal losses. The Forum are now proposing these farms implement TB risk management plans in consultation with their vet, which will be at an additional cost. These farms will also be compelled to carry out 30-day pre-movement testing on all animals offered for sale other than slaughter, significantly diminishing the viability of market access for these herds. It is estimated by the Department of Agriculture that up to 500 herds will be immediately impacted by this measure with current restricted herds added to the protocol as they become derestricted if categorised as chronic herds, effectively extending the impact of the controls on those farms.”
In addition, Pat Farrell said the Department of Agriculture proposal undermines the long-established agreement with government in relation to liability to pay for tests. He said farmers are only liable to pay for one TB test a year and at no shorter interval than 10 months with all additional testing required in the TB programme paid for by the Department of Agriculture. Under this proposal the Department of Agriculture will only pay for one pre-movement test per quarter exposing farmers to very costly pre-movement testing costs if they need to sell animals at different intervals.
Pat Farrell said, “IFA have outrightly rejected this proposal, and the Minister must honour the existing agreement in relation to payment for tests”.
Given the enormous costs and losses imposed on farmers in the TB programme, IFA made detailed submissions on necessary changes to the programme including to the compensation schemes which are a fundamental part of the programme to offset the burden on farmers. Progress was achieved on issues such as wildlife and information services for affected farmers, but the fundamental issue of compensation was not addressed.
The representatives of the Minister for Agriculture at the Forum have stated they will not support any increases to compensation rates for farmers. This has frustrated the work of the Forum and prevented any meaningful progress.
Pat Farrell said this approach clearly shows the lack of appreciation and understanding from the Minister’s officials of the impact that controls are imposing on farmers and their families.
He called on the Minister for Agriculture to immediately clarify his position on this critical issue for farmers.
He said the Minister must confirm to farmers if the views expressed by his officials at the TB Forum are consistent with his views and if not resolve the issue as a matter of urgency.
Pat Farrell concluded, “The TB burden has gone on for too long and eradication must be the objective, but this cannot be attained by the usual Department of Agriculture simplistic approach of just tightening controls on farmers and increasing the cost burden while ignoring the stress, trauma and economic impact these controls have on farmers and their families”.